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Battling the Locomotive

Home Depot's Arrival Is No Death Knell for Local Hardware Store

September 24, 1997

When a Home Depot opened near Fred's Curb Hardware in December, General Manager Lane Weinman saw business drop by almost 15%. But Weinman says his losses might have been double that if months before he hadn't started remaking his store. The overhaul didn't come without hardships, but Weinman credits the face-lift with helping to recover his losses and even post the year's first gain last month. Weinman was interviewed by freelance writer Stephen Gregory.

Typically, every three to five years we try to do something to make the store more appealing, like repaint or add new colors. However, the last time coincided with us finding out in February [1996] that a Home Depot would be moving into the area. We figured we had to do more than just repaint.

At that time, our merchandise was not effectively displayed in departments or groups, so you couldn't easily find items. The aisles and the general layout of the store were very confusing. It felt very cramped and didn't have an inviting feel for shoppers. The store started to have a worn-down look, so that some people would drive by and actually think it was closed up.

We began working on the make-over in June of '96. The first phase was to hit the outside. The main priority was to get it done and finished so that we would have a beautiful presentation before we started working on the inside. We wanted to make sure the new facade was up prior to Home Depot opening.

The problem with doing the outside was that we had to take all the signage off the building. We were concerned that people were going to start thinking that we were out of business. And that happened. From day one we were fielding a flurry of calls from people saying, "Hey, we're sorry to see you close." We wanted to minimize that by completing the outside in a very quick fashion. We did the work ourselves and spent pretty much every available hour working on that. It took about 2 1/2 months.

The inside presented a totally different problem because we were going to be ripping up the entire store. Aisles would be changing, and it was impossible for us to do it without unloading each rack of merchandise. We were worried that customers wouldn't be able to find the merchandise.

The way we solved that problem was doing the vast majority of the work at night. We were working double shifts. We used to have three long aisles, and what we wanted to do was make shorter aisles and have them going the other way. But once we did that, everything was in total disarray. We had to go through and redepartmentalize everything, and that went on both day and night for several months.

Everyone who came into the store basically had to receive assistance. There was just no way they were ever going to find anything on their own. To overcome that, we brought on a couple of part-time people to work the cash registers to get my normal full-time people onto the sales floor to help customers. We were really concerned that if people came in and got too aggravated that they would leave, and that may be a customer lost for good.

One of the biggest boosts we got from the remodeling was that the customers' impression of us went up a great deal. At a time when most stores were kind of holding their head in their hands and saying, "Oh, my God, Home Depot's coming," we were saying, "OK, yeah, they're coming, but who cares?" We've been here for 30 years, and we're going to be here for another 30 years. We realized there was room to improve, and we took the bull by the horns.

At A Glance

* Company: Fred's Curb Hardware

* Owners: lane, Fred and Dianne Weinman

* Location: 4583 Melrose Ave., Hollywood

* year founded: 1965

* Number of employees: 14

* Annual revenue: $990,000

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